What do all growing churches have in common?

by Josh Hunt

All growing churches have one thing in common. They have lots of differences:

· They may be seeker-driven or seeker-hostile.

· They may be contemporary or traditional.

· They may be Sunday School based or do home groups.

· They may be purpose-driven or may have never heard of purpose-driven.

What do all growing churches have in common? It is not location or worship style or any particular methodology.

The thing that all growing churches have in common is not at the congregational level at all. At that level, they are very different. But, at the cellular level, they are very similar. To use the analogy of the body, they may be a deer or a cat or an elephant, but at the cellular level, they have a similar functioning. (Any biologists out there? How close to right on a physical level is the analogy? Write me at josh@joshhunt.com )

At the cellular level, all growing churches have doubling groups.

No matter what the size of the church, or style of the church, if they are doubling, they are doubling the number of groups.  At Saddleback, average attendance in groups is 9.7. At Willowcreek, they keep groups between 7 and 14. In Jackson, MS, group size averages around 10. Jesus' own small group was 12.

You grow a church by doubling the number of groups, not by doubling the size of each group.

Is is it really about being purpose driven?

I am a big fan of Rick Warren and the Purpose Driven Life campaign. I have been a fan of Rick Warren before he was Rick Warren. My life was forever changed by a week at Saddleback back in the mid 1980s when I attended their annual Church Growth Conference.

One of the smarter things Rick Warren ever said was, "It takes all kinds of churches to reach all kinds of people." Indeed.

Rick Warren advocates growing a church by being balanced on the five purposes. He advocates programming on purpose and budgeting on purpose and preaching on purpose and staffing on purpose and calendaring on purpose. The idea is to see that the budget and the calendar and the preaching schedule are all balanced to give equal attention to each of the five purposes. Reasonable enough, but that is not the only way to do it.

Bill Hybels disagrees. They don't try to balance the five purposes (five G's in his lingo) at all. They are intentionally lopsided. He says, "I have found that we to give twice as much energy to the purpose of evangelism just to stay in balance." Twice as much money, time, energy, calendaring, time in the pulpit, and so forth. It takes all kinds of churches to reach all kinds of people.

Jack Hayford doesn't go for balance either. I have heard him say that they have intentionally chosen to stress the purpose of worship above the others. They are going to make sure they get worship right and will assume that everything else will fall into place. He has built a great church and a great movement of churches. It takes all kinds of churches to reach all kinds of people.

Steve Sjogren emphasizes still another purpose. His servant evangelism concept uses ministry, or service as the point purpose. It is the purpose that drives the rest. A follower of his, one of my hosts explained it to me this way. He pointed out into the parking lot at a stranger getting out of his car. "Suppose I said to you, 'engage him in a spiritually significant conversation.' What do you think your chances are of walking up to him and opening his heart? Now, imagine this scenario. It is summer time. It is 100 degrees outside and the humidity makes it feel like 120. You are on that sidewalk with a bucket of ice cold bottles of water. You offer him one. He asks what that is about. You say you are a Christian and want to share the love of Christ in a tangible way. Now, you don't have to guess about this one; I have done it many times. It is suddenly easy to enter into a spiritually significant conversation." I thought, "Hmmm. Interesting. Doesn't the Bible say something somewhere about a cup of cold water?" At Vineyard Church in Cincinnati, they use service as the driving purpose that opens the door to evangelism so they can disciple, lead people to worship, and back into service. It takes all kinds of churches to reach all kinds of people.

John MacArthur emphasizes discipleship. We grow the people up, they are able to witness, minister, and worship. We get everything done if we have mature people to do it. Makes sense. It takes all kinds of churches to reach all kinds of people.

If you think about it, my own party-driven strategy emphasizes one purpose above the rest: fellowship. We can double a class every two years or less by inviting every member and every prospect to every fellowship every month. I have seen if happen more times than I can count that if I can get them to the party you couldn't keep them from class. It is one way to get it done. It takes all kinds of churches to reach all kinds of people.

So, here are six ways to grow a church:

  • Balance the purposes--Rick Warren

  • Emphasize evangelism--Bill Hybels

  • Emphasize worship--Jack Hayford

  • Emphasize service--Steve Sjogren

  • Emphasize discipleship--John MacArthur

  • Emphasize fellowship--Josh Hunt

Which one is right? It takes all kinds of churches to reach all kinds of people.

But, although these churches are very different at the congregational level, they bear a remarkable similarity at the cell level. All growing churches are growing through doubling the number of groups.

Christian Swartz did a great service to the church in the research he did preparing to write the book, Natural Church Development. He surveyed thousands of churches on every continent to discover what makes a church growing and healthy. The #1 distinguishing quality of growing churches was they were constantly talking about growth through multiplication; growth through multiplication; growth through multiplication. 

Whatever else you emphasize on a congregational level, be it worship or evangelism or service or discipleship or balance, at the cellular level emphasize this word: DOUBLE!




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